The end of the year is a time for regrets. What are all the things I didn’t do? What are all the books I didn’t feature?
For the past two years I’ve compiled a gift catalog for our readers in December, to remind you of some of the books we’ve covered this year in time for your holiday shopping; but it always puts me in a strange mood, and I begin to think about the books I couldn’t seem to find a way to tell you all about. These books are like my little ghosts of Christmas past, reminding me that time is short. So let me present them to you now: all the books we didn’t feature in 2019.
This one still haunts me: Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman’s Sounds Like Titantic. I really should have found a way to spread the word about this book, it’s just so perfectly weird. When I was reading it, I kept closing the book to carefully scrutinize the jacket copy, asking myself: Is this actually a true story? Hindman, an admittedly not very accomplished violinist, was hired during a desperate job hunt to play in a famous schlocky composer’s traveling orchestra (his fans say that his music sounds like, you guessed it, the theme from Titantic) and soon she realizes it’s all… a scam! As in, the orchestra isn’t really playing; the musicians are just miming playing their instruments over a recording. That’s right, Hindman goes on a multi-city tour fake-playing the violin, in a fully fake orchestra! It’s… perfect. And the way Hindman writes about her experience is really striking — a sort of lyrical resignation to being part of it, all of it, this scam, all the scams, the grand American scam.
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Here’s another one I regret not featuring: Lucasta Miller’s L.E.L.: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated “Female Byron.” The key word here is scandal— and plenty of it! This poetess’s life had some serious twists in it. I could not put this one down. I’ll be honest, I cheated: I started skipping ahead to figure out what was going on with L.E.L. A lot was going on with L.E.L.! I won’t spoil it but suffice to say, poetry is involved.
And how about this one: Marcus Byrne and Helen Lunn’s Dance of the Dung Beetles: Their Role in Our Changing World. I actually can’t believe I didn’t feature that one on Longreads. I just sounds like something I would try to make everyone read. Did you know dung beetles navigate using the stars? I bet you did not know that.
Though I talked about it a bit with Ibram X. Kendi in an a episode of our What Are You Reading? podcast earlier this year, I feel this book deserves another mention: Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow is a riveting novel — on its surface a dystopian nightmare of the future of racism in America, Ruffin’s debut functions as a kind of ghastly dissection of race in America today that lays bare too many of the bleeding raw parts. It’s difficult to look away from this book.
And of course there are many more! There are always so many books that we haven’t read. Good luck trying to keep up in 2020!